Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

Today Bill and I took a beautiful back-road drive through the black hills of South Dakota, on our way

to the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. This is yet another free admission perk we get with our VIP card we received for our volunteer service here at Custer State Park.

“The discovery of this active dig came about in June 1974, when heavy equipment operator George Hanson was leveling ground for a Hot Springs housing development planned by land owner Phil Anderson. Hanson was grading a small hill when his blade struck something that shone white in the sunlight. Hanson got out for a closer look. What he saw was a tusk, about seven feet long, sliced in half length wise, along with other bones. Mr Hanson contacted the land owner, Mr. Anderson, who contacted three universities and colleges in South Dakota, and one university in Nebraska. None of the 4 colleges were interested in the project nor did they have any desire to come and see what was discovered in Hot Springs”. Eventually, they did get the attention of the right people who came and saw the discovery, and took the right actions to save this site, which is an active dig site to this day. All to the credit of Mr. Hanson who discovered the bones, and land owner, Mr. Anderson, who sold the land at cost. He did not make a profit off the land at all…

The information sheet we received when we arrived at the Mammoth Site say’s “Travel back in time to the late Ice Age by taking a 30 minute guided tour indoors”. What a great learning experience this tour was. We learned that there was a very large sinkhole in the area, and the edges of a sinkhole was very slippery. This is “where Columbian and wooly mammoths, camels, wolves, and giant short-faced bears became trapped leaving an ancient treasure trove of fossil remains”.

How did they become trapped, you might ask…? Well the edges of the sinkhole was spearfish shale, which is very slippery when wet. So when the animals would go to the edge of the sinkhole, where they were enticed by the tender grasses, and the warm waters that surrounded the sinkhole, many of them, like the mammoths, that carried massive weight, and didn’t have claws to help them dig their way out, ¬†would slip in and die of exhaustion from trying to get out, or they would drown. The picture below is an example of spearfish shale.

We found it interesting that this is an active working excavation site featuring the fossils of over 60 mammoths,

and of those 60 mammoth remains, most of them are male. Our guide told us that they believe that is because the mammoths had a female matriarch that would teach the majority of the herd to stay away from the sinkhole. However. boys will be boys… and the young male mammoths that didn’t want to behave, would be kicked of the herd, and without the female matriarch to guide them away from the sinkhole… they fell in and died… Pay attention boys!! The next three pictures are of male remains found in the sinkhole.

The next picture is an example of a full-size mammoth.

This mammoth exhibit hall also features replicas of Lyuba,

and Dima; baby mammoth mummies discovered in Siberia.

For budding scientists, there is a hands-on learning activity for children. Downstairs, the laboratory windows provide a behind- the-scenes glimpse of the scientific work being conducted on site.

Bill and I ended our outing with lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge, here in Custer State Park,

where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of buffalo stew, served in a cast iron skillet, with mashed potatoes on top,

and delicious cornbread with honey butter…OMG!!!

Just another fun-filled day here in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Stay Tuned!

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